The history of the trumpet

The history of the trumpet

Archaeological remains from Africa indicate that  trumpet like instruments have been made from animal horns and tusks. There is evidence of bronze and silver trumpets having been developed by the ancient Egyptians civilisation around 1400 BC and also in various Mediterranean Civilizations including Greeks, Romans and Israelites. It is thought that trumpet type instruments were used during religious ceremonies and also during military campaigns, (much as the Scots used bagpipes as a weapon of war, to create fear and panic due to the loud and unearthly sound. India Tibet and  China also developed resonating tube instruments that could be considered for runners of the modern day trumpet, but these were large instruments at low pitch,  much like Swiss alpine horns, and appear to be mostly for ceremonial use.

Although many of the use early instruments were made from natural materials like animals horns and tusks or hollowed out wood, some were made by quite advanced manufacturing techniques such as Castings using the lost wax process. This process is still used today for high precision Castings in the engineering industry, but dates back thousands of years.

Trumpets migrated from the Eastern Mediterranean and Arab cultures to Western Europe in the late Middle Ages,  around 1100AD  via The Crusaders.  These were sheet metal instruments formed into a tube with soldered joints, very close to modern day trumpet manufacturing techniques. By about 1400 AD  curved instruments were being produced to produce a more compact instrument. Advanced metalworking techniques were used to produce the bends. A straight trumpet could be produced by metal beating over a former, but during the bending process a tube would collapse and flatten.

Lead was a commonly used metal, being malleable and having a low melting point. (The dangers of handling lead and inhaling lead fumes was unknown at that time so prove no barrier to its use.) One bending technique used was to fill the straight instrument with lead, let it solidify, bend the instruments into the desired shape with the lead preventing collapse of the tube. After the bending process was complete, the lead was melted out of the instrument. Clever or what!

The first attempts to improve the versatility of trumpets didn't come until the 1750s. Up to this time trumpets couldn't play a chromatic scale,  and this Limited it's used with other instruments and limited the tunes that could be composed for it. What attempted solution was to bend the trumpet so that the player could insert their hand into the bowel and use this to increase the range of notes that could be played. This didn't really catch on with the trumpet, so this technique is used in the French Horn, which can be considered as part of the trumpet family. Another attempt solution was the slide trumpet which don't catch on on such a small instrument,  though it did develop into the trombone, again part of the trumpet family but a much larger instrument with a large sliding tubular section.

Various forms of trumpet valve were developed from 1788 onwards,  but it wasn't until 1832 Francois Perinet produced a piston valve in the form that is currently used. As hinted at in the earlier section on trumpet manufacturing, the purpose of the trumpet valves is to join sections of additional tubing into the overall length of the trumpet and so alter the pitch of its base note and harmonics. Using valves, tubing extensions, bass notes and harmonics in the correct combination a musician can play a chromatic scale of two and a half octaves or thereabouts.

The trumpet had become an engineering product rather than a totally handcrafted object. Valve making, tube forming and bending, soldering and brazing are manufacturing techniques. The first trumpet factory was opened in Paris in 1842 by the instrument maker and engineer Adolphe Sax (The same person who invented and  develop the saxophone intended to be an easy instrument to play and to manufacturer sound the trumpet and other traditional wind instruments.)

Other manufacturers in England and America opened up production facilities. In particular was a factory opened in 1875 elkhart, Indiana, America,  which use the manufacturing techniques developed for gun manufacture.  guns were big thing in America, as they are today, I've had been hand crafted weapons. Parts were not interchangeable  and she couldn't simply be replaced with another standard component when damaged or worn. The first development of high accuracy standardised parts that were interchangeable from one gun to the next, was developed in the USA. The same production concept Of interchangeability was used in the production of valving for trumpets in the Indiana factory and of course went on to be used in the motor industry, enabling mass production.

The standard orchestral trumpet and the one used mostly in jazz bands is the trumpet in B flat. The range is two and a half octaves or little more with some trumpeters.

Great Jazz Trumpeters


1) (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blue - Louis Armstrong

2) Bags Groove - Miles Davis

3) Things Ain't What They Used To Be - Dizzy Gillespie

4) Laura - Clifford Brown

5) Moanin' - Lee Morgan

6) The Song Is Ended - Roy Eldridge

7) Misty - Freddie Hubbard

8) Cantaloupe Island - Donald Byrd

9) Ol' Man River - Bix Beiderbecke

10) The Things We Did Last Summer - Fats Navarro

This YouTube video gives you a sample of just a few of the many great jazz trumpeters on the past and present day. In a jazz band The trumpeter Is rather like the first violin of a classical string quartet.  It is a higher pitched instrument with significant volume, able to play fast runs and take the tune much of the time.

Jazz bands vary in size from duos 2 full orchestra as in the Big Bands, But 4 or 5 players is typical comma with the same range of tonality as the string quartet or classical string quintet. As with a classical counterpart, fortune line will be thrown from instruments to instrument, but with one predominating.

The jazz big band is somewhat like the classical Orchestra, where's the trumpet player may take the solo but becomes part of a trumpet section along with the trombones.  In a big band the saxophones tend to take the place of the string section of a classical Symphony Orchestra.

Great Classical Trumpet players


1) Trumpet Concerto In D Major - Maurice Andre

2) Trumpet In E Flat Major - Sergei Narkariakov

3) Haydn Trumpet Concerto In E Flat - Tine Thing Helseth

4) Someone To Watch Over Me - Philip Smith

5) Hora Staccato - Matthias Hofs

6) 3 Gymnopedies - Alison Balsom

7) Horn Concerto No 4 - David Guerrier

8) Trumpet Concerto In E- Flat - Hakan Hardenberger

9) Danny Boy - Jens Lindemann

10) Concerto In C Major For Two Trumpets - Wynton Marsalis

Johann Sebastian Bach's  Brandenburg concerto number 2 is scored for trumpet, but this is the smaller higher pitched trumpet than the standard orchestral trumpet. There were numerous trumpet concertos written in the baroque era. In the classical era trumpet concertos were written by Joseph Haydn, Leopold Mozart and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart amongst others. Relatively few were written in the romantic period but there has been a resurgence in the composition of trumpet concertos from the 1940s to the present day.

However the modern trumpet is mostly considered as an orchestral instrument. Sometimes the trumpet is used for effect or as part of the overall orchestral harmony, but many works have specific trumpet solos such as Beethoven's Leonore overtures, Gustav Holst the Planets, Mahler's 5th Symphony and so on.

The trumpet can be played with tremendous volume enabling it to cut through the sound of a full orchestra. It is so loud that many string players at the back of the viola and cello sections which are close to the trumpets, are forced to wear ear defenders. These are small earplugs designed to attenuate all frequencies from high to low, by the same amount. This is quite different to the standard earplugs that you would buy at Boots chemist to protect your hearing when you are cutting the lawn. These reduce the sound much more at high frequencies than low frequencies and if used while playing music, distorts the sound and means that all instruments cannot be heard clearly.

A set of orchestral musicians earplugs will set you back at least £200, but enable you to hear what you are playing yourself and to hear the rest of the orchestra , though more faintly. In fact it can be quite a strange Experience playing with orchestral ear plugs.   As a string player I've used them in orchestral, Big Band jazz and ceilidh band and barn dance band situations. I once tried wearing them whilst playing string quartets, just to see what the effect was (because they are quite a necessary when playing with only for other stringed instruments.) It was really weird. It sounded as if  every everybody else was in a different room.